Like any individual I make a lot of mistakes and as I go over them I can classify many of my life incidents either according to negative reinforcement or punishment. The distinction between negative reinforcement and punishment is that in the former “the aversive consequence is used to increase the future occurrence of a wanted behavior” whereas in the latter the “aversive consequence is used to decrease the future occurrence of an undesired behavior.” Negative reinforcement increases the probability of the desired behavior by escape and avoidance. When it comes to making decisions I sometimes use the escape method. I let the guilt ring on and only do something about it once I can’t handle it anymore.
For example I recently ordered a product through a friend and later decided that I want to cancel the order. The friend hadn’t taken any advance money from me and hadn’t proceeded with making the order. I badly wanted to cancel the order but I felt bad because I had put her through quite a lot of trouble when I was going through the decision making process before placing the order. Henceforth, the embarrassment of wanting to cancel the order kept on driving me crazy until I finally called her one day and explained my situation to her and apologized for the inconvenience. I finally felt better and relieved because I had escaped the situation.
Punishment is one aspect where the operant theory fails to explain my personality and the life choices I have made. According to the Operant Theory of Conditioning punishment decreases behavior whereas in my case it has always led to increased behavior. This phenomenon that B. F. Skinner forgot to incorporate is called rebelliousness. To be told that I will be punished a certain way has never worked on me. In elementary school punishment for a bad behavior would be asked to stand in a corner, in middle school it might mean detention, and in high school it might mean something more consequential. If we look back at our high school days when was it ever that detention helped a student improve his grades or behavior. The kids who got detention were already doing poorly to begin with. Punishing someone is usually not the answer to get a specific behavioral response. Punishment can have many side effects such as rebelliousness especially if a person is being punished on unreasonable grounds. Growing up we have all felt that we were unfairly punished by our parents. For some of us this tactic worked and lead us to become highly successful individuals whereas for some of us this led to massive acts of rebellion such as dyeing our hair pink and red, get face and body piercing, getting permanent tattoo’s, staying out after curfew and breaking so many other rules. Obviously other social theories like the ones of deviance and control also play a part into rebellious activities that Operant Conditioning Theory fails to explain this dilemma even partially.
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